The bountiful spring rains have produced a prolific growth of native grasses in the unleased areas of our city. As the weather becomes warmer and the grasses start drying out, their sharp seeds can be a menace to pets.
The most common problem occurs when a seed finds its way into the ear of a dog. This can happen remarkably quickly, especially in dogs such as spaniels or hounds with long pendulous ears. The forward and backward movement of the tissues at the base of the ear guides the seed into the external ear as the dog runs through long grass.
The dog reacts by violently shaking its head and holds the affected ear low to the ground. The seeds of barley grass and wild oats are most commonly the cause of this problem as the construction of these seeds ensures that they attach very firmly to the hair as the dog pushes through the long grass. The seed is also shaped in such a way that it can only travel forward and once having entered the ear canal it cannot be floated out by irrigating the ear with drops.
Grass seeds frequently penetrate the skin between the toes and under the armpits. In the male, grass seeds commonly enter the prepuce, and in females through the vagina as they squat to pass urine. Having penetrated, the seed may travel some distance in the loose tissues under the skin before coming to rest. Very soon the tissues react to this foreign body producing a painful inflammation that usually discharges to the outside through the original point of entry. The dog licks the area and unless the grass seed is located and removed quickly, large abscesses may develop.
Cats do not usually get grass seeds in the ear as their ears are short and are carried high on the head. They frequently get seeds in their eyes and owners should be suspicious if their pet is found with one eye tightly closed and weeping profusely. The animal is often very reluctant to allow the eye to be examined and even if the eyelids are opened, nothing may be visible. The seed often completely disappears in the deeper recesses of the upper or lower lid or behind the third eyelid.
Cats and dogs eat grass frequently and this can lead to a variety of problems if they choose grass with maturing seeds. A common problem in cats is caused by a grass seed becoming wedged between the molar teeth and working its way into the tissues of the gum or into the tooth socket itself. Very soon an abscess develops which can produce a large swelling of the external tissues of the face.
In dogs, the seeds may lodge beside the tonsils and cause a variety of symptoms. The dog may develop a persistent cough and, when attempting to eat, may have obvious difficulty in swallowing. Again the seeds can be difficult to see even if the dog is co-operative as they may be obscured from view by the flaps of skin which normally partly cover the tonsils. Seeds swallowed may penetrate the soft tissues of the pharynx and produce a huge abscess in the pendulous tissues of the neck.
Of course, it is difficult to stop dogs and cats from eating grass and to supervise where cats hunt at night. Some problems can be avoided by not exercising the dog in areas having long native grasses till later in the year when the grasses have dropped all their seeds. It is wise to have dogs with dense coats trimmed, paying particular attention to removing the long hair around the base of the ears, between the toes and along the undersurface.
Pets suddenly shaking their heads, licking their toes or suddenly keeping one eye closed after being in long grass require veterinary attention as it is usually necessary to anesthetize the animal in order to locate and remove the seed safely.